From Omaha Beachhead
Excerpt from Charles H. Taylor, American Forces in Action: Omaha Beachhead (Historical Division, War Department, Washington, D.C., 20 September 1945), pages 47-49; 65-71; and 98-100. [Note: Authorship of Omaha Beachhead is uncredited, as was traditional with Army-sanctioned publications.]
Omaha Beachhead by Charles H. Taylor will always have pride of place as the first narrative of that battle. For the story of it came to be written, see The War Department Historical Branch in WWII.
Taylor’s fellow historian-at-arms, Forrest C. Pogue offered this portrait in Pogue’s War: “Lieutenant Colonel Charles H. Taylor, professor of medieval history at Harvard…combined the meticulousness of the student of the Middle Ages with an active interest in the present. He often said that while modern war was better documented than conflicts of the past, the task of piecing together the truth was just as difficult.”
D-Day: The Landings
The Initial Assault Wave
Easy Red Beach, over a mile long and fronting E-1 draw, was assigned to the 2d BLT, with Companies E and F landing in the first wave. The bulk of both companies landed far to the east. The only infantry to come in on Easy Red in the first wave were two lost boat sections of Company E, 116th RCT, and one section each of Companies E and F, 16th RCT. All of them were between E-1 and E-3 draws. Men from two of the craft were put out in waist-deep water, but hit a deep runnel as they waded in and had to swim through surf and a strong tidal current pulling them eastward. Flamethrowers, mortars, bazookas, and many personal weapons were dropped in the struggle. The two 116th sections lost only two men from enemy fire up to the shingle–an experience suggesting the ill-fortune of the first wave in that so few landings were made on Easy Red. A little to their left, the 1st Section of Company F came into the belt of heavy enemy fire that apparently extended from there on eastward to E-3 draw; of the 31 men unloading in neck-deep water, only 14 reached the shingle. Except for these four sections—about a hundred men—the only assault elements on Easy Red Beach for the first half hour were four DD tanks, one already disabled.
D-Day advance before noon on Easy Red.
Very different was the record of the landings on Fox Beach. Whereas four scattered sections of infantry came into Easy Red without many casualties, the bulk of four companies (three of them scheduled for more westerly beaches) landed on Fox against every possible handicap of mislandings, delays, and enemy opposition.
Less the one section already accounted for (on Easy Red), Company E of the 16th RCT touched down on the western part of Fox Green, the craft badly scattered over a front of nearly 800 yards. The final run-in was not costly, but crossing bands of automatic fire caught most of the craft as the ramps were lowered, and from there on losses were heavy. Most of them were incurred in the water, and among men who stopped to drag the wounded ashore. So exhausted and shaken were the assault troops that when they reached the sand, 300 yards from the shingle bank, most of them stopped there and crawled in just ahead of the tide. The greater number of the company’s 105 casualties for D Day were suffered on the beach, in the first stage of assault.
Five sections of Company F, 16th RCT, landed on Fox Green scattered all the way from E-3 draw to a point a thousand yards further east. Two sections landed close together in front of the strongpoints defending E-3 draw. Mortars as well as machinegun fire got about one-third of the personnel before they made the shingle. Further east, the other three parties fared as badly, only seven men from one craft getting through the fire to the shingle. Two officers survived among Company F’s widely separated sections.
Above all, stiff enemy resistance and the disorganization caused by mislandings and heavy casualties had combined to prevent infantry units in this wave from carrying out their mission of immediate assault. All the more credit is due those elements, most of them facing unfamiliar terrain and enemy defenses, which surmounted the shock of the worst period on the beach and shared in the first advances inland.
E-1 STRONGPOINT, to the west of the draw, was neutralized by a boat team of Company E, 16th Infantry, which came on it from the woods to the rear. The photo above, taken a day later, shows beach obstacles and wreckage along the top of the tidal flat
Assault of the Bluffs
The Advance From Easy Red
Elements of three companies shared in the assault on the bluffs between E-1 and E-3 draws. At this part of Easy Red, the beach shelf above the shingle embankment is more than a hundred yards wide, with areas of swamp along the inland edge of the flat. One hundred and thirty feet high on this sector, the bluff is reached by 200 yards of moderate slope, patched with heavy bush. Five hundred yards west of E-3, a small draw led up at a slight angle to the west, forming a possible corridor for advance to the bluff crest. Below the draw on the flat was a ruined house.
The 1st Section of Company E, 16th Infantry, and two of the scattered sections of E, 116th, had come to shore here in the first wave. The 16th’s unit, led by 2d Lt. John M. Spalding, blew a gap in the wire above the shingle, made its way past the house, and then was held up by minefields in the marshy ground at the foot of the slopes. Intense small-arms fire came from an emplacement to the left, in the E-3 strongpoint. Spalding’s men found a way past the mines and were beginning to work up the slope, using the defilade afforded by the small draw. To the west, and out of contact, the two sections from the 116th had cut the wire and dashed across the flat, but mines stopped them near the start of the hillside and they took shelter in a ditch. A soldier who went ahead to clear a path by use of a bangalore was killed by an antipersonnel mine.
Meanwhile Company G of the 16th RCT had landed (0700) and had reached the embankment in good order. The company’s machine guns, set up behind the shingle, found no targets until LCVP’s of the 1st Battalion, coming toward the beach (about 0730), drew enemy fire from 8 or 10 small emplacements along the half mile of bluff. While the heavy weapons built up a volume of supporting fire, a few men from each section blew gaps in the extensive double-apron and concertina wire beyond the shingle. Their work was made more difficult by anti-personnel mines set to detonate by trip wires. Four bangalores were required to cut one lane. Engineers of Company A, 1st Engineer Combat Battalion and Company C, 37th Engineer Combat Battalion helped in gapping and marking the lanes. When G’s men reached the slopes they came into contact with Lieutenant Spalding’s section of E and the two sections of the 116th. In an effort to coordinate the advance, an arrangement was made with these units to operate on Company G’s right….
Above: PATH THROUGH MINEFIELDS, marked by engineers and followed by the assaulting units of the 16th Infantry from Easy Red. View taken from the foot of the slopes, looks directly up route taken D Day morning by units of the 16th Infantry (2nd and 1st Battalions).
Right: ADVANCE FROM EASY RED (Photograph of 15 February 1944). An aerial map. Spalding’s section of E Company is represented at the upper left
To their right Lieutenant Spalding’s section of Company E, 16th RCT, was getting up about the same time, helped by covering fire from Company G, and effecting a useful extension of the front of penetration. The section now numbered 23 men, having lost 3 at the beach and 3 more getting past an enemy machine gun on the bluff side. The gun was operated by a lone soldier who was captured and found to be Polish. He informed Spalding that there were 16 enemy in trenches to his rear. The Company E section got to the trenches, sprayed them with fire and found the Germans had withdrawn. Spalding turned west along the bluff crest, losing contact with Company G as that unit headed south. Moving through hedgerowed fields and wooded areas, the Company E group came up on the rear of the strongpoint guarding E-1 draw. The Germans were manning trenches overlooking the beach, and attack from the high ground caught them by surprise. In two hours of confused fighting, Spalding’s men got through the outworks of this strongpoint and overcame opposition by close-in work with grenades and rifles
Naval fire hitting in the parts of the strong-point below the bluff top, helped to demoralize the resistance. Twenty-one prisoners were taken, and several enemy killed, without loss to the attackers. Although the fortified area was too extensive to be thoroughly cleaned out by Spalding’s small force, the strongpoint east of E-1 had been effectively neutralized by midmorning, just when important reinforcements for the assault were beginning to land in front of the draw. About 1100 Spalding’s section was joined by some other elements of Company E, which had come up from further east. They brought word from battalion to head south for Colleville.
The area opened up by Company G became a funnel for movement off the beach during the rest of the morning….
Above: EASY RED, between E-1 and E-3 draws, was the area where the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry reached the bluff. Company G made the penetration here from ruins in the foreground. Photo taken shortly after D Day shows beach road already improved by U.S. Engineers
Right: ENTRANCE TO COLLEVILLE FROM WEST. After advance from Easy Red Beach, Company G, 16th Infantry, fought into this village just after noon. G Company was held in Colleville the rest of the day by bitter enemy resistance in houses just beyond the church. (Photo taken June 1945.)
When Company G got past the bluff and started inland, about 0900, they were bothered only by light sniping and occasional signs of minefields and made rapid progress for a thousand yards to the south. They were advancing in their designated one and according to plan. The first objective was a German bivouac area a quarter mile west of Colleville; from there the company would turn into Colleville. Company G approached the bivouac area about 0930 and received heavy fire from automatic weapons and mortars on both flanks of its advance. A two-hour action followed, with house-to-house fighting before the enemy was driven out of the area. The company suffered 12 casualties. Remnants of a Company F section and small elements of H, and two sections of Company E, 116th, had followed G’s route from the beach and joined up during the morning, giving a strength of about 150 men for the attack on Colleville.
A little after noon, a section of G started into the western edge of the village, but was unable to progress against strong resistance after seizing the first few buildings. The rest of the company was extended to the west, and the section farthest out on that wing lost contact. By some misunderstanding, the two 116th sections withdrew toward the bivouac area. Small groups of enemy filtered through the gaps, a pillbox near the head of E-3 draw was still in action, and fire came from flanks and rear, giving the impression of encirclement. For the next two hours, Company G fought on the defensive, inflicting 18 casualties on the enemy. This action marked the nearest approach on D Day to a German counterattack made in any strength. At about 1500, the situation was relieved by the arrival of the 2d Battalion, 18th Infantry, which came up from E-1 draw with orders to take over the 2d Battalion, 16th Infantry’s mission. But Company G was unable to get farther into Colleville, and suffered eight casualties when supporting naval fire hit the houses in the village. Enemy resistance was unshaken by the bombardment.
Company G had felt itself isolated during this period, an impression which was characteristic of most of the inland fighting on D Day. Actually, the advance from Easy Red had been followed up by a number of other units which by noon were not far from Colleville. Between Colleville and Easy Red Beach, battalion and regimental command groups were working hard to organize the scattered assault forces and build up support. However, contacts were irregular, the hedgerows cut off observation, and small enemy groups held on tenaciously in bypassed positions, from which they opened with harassing fire on the flanks or rear of advancing units and drew them into a mopping-up action that might consume two or three hours. Other enemy groups, trying to get back from the bluff positions, added to the confusion by appearing in areas supposedly cleared up. In this fashion, small separate battles were developing throughout the day almost anywhere between E-1 and E-3 draws and south beyond the highway. Advance under these conditions was more or less blind, and coordinated action by the assault forces became almost impossible.
Lt. Col. Herbert C. Hicks, Jr., commanding the 2d Battalion of the 16th RCT, had followed Company G toward Colleville and was endeavoring to get other units of his battalion toward that area. The only sizable group he could find during the morning was made up of about 50 men of Company E, including Lieutenant Spalding’s section from the E-1 strongpoint. This party reached the coastal highway about noon and pushed several hundred yards beyond to cover the right flank of G. Moving with a section of G, the group came under sniper fire from the rear and lost contact with friendly units. Later in the afternoon, deciding that they were in danger of being cut off, the Company E detachment withdrew toward Colleville.